Just miles from Boston’s world-renowned hospitals, Whittier Street Health Center (Whittier), a community healthcare and wellness center, provides healthcare and social services for thousands of the city’s ethnically diverse and largely low-income population. Ninety-two percent of Whittier’s patients live below the poverty level, 83 percent live in public housing, and 88 percent are from a minority background.

Frederica Williams, President and CEO of Whittier for eleven years, takes the health of Boston’s neediest residents seriously. With a mission to provide equitable access to high quality healthcare, Williams understands the connection between socioeconomic issues—poverty, violence, unemployment, affordable housing, and education—and good health.

According to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services Offices of Minority Health, in 2008 cancer was the first or second leading cause of death for minorities in the U.S., with African Americans having the highest mortality rate for all cancers combined. Heart disease was the leading killer across most minorities in the U.S., accounting for 25 percent of all deaths in 2008.

In January 2012, Whittier opened the doors to its first permanent home in its 80-year history. The new building houses programs and services to address wellness and high rates of chronic illnesses in the communities served. The new facility includes the first-of-its-kind Cancer Equity Center, in partnership with Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Center, to help reduce the high rates of deaths from cancer in minority communities.

Since Williams joined Whittier, the number of patients has increased from 5,000 to 25,000 in 2012 and her vision is to grow that number to 40,000 by 2017. The increase of patients represents the important resource Whittier is to residents. In 2010, Whittier ranked above the national average for healthcare services and ranked below the national average in low birth weight, 2.27 percent to the nation’s average of 8.3 percent, among 1,200 community healthcare centers surveyed across the country.

Championing equitable access to healthcare regardless of a patient’s ability to pay for services, Williams remains committed to eliminating disparities in health and healthcare in low income and minority communities.